BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. - Florida regulators are investigating the Brevard County Sheriff's Office Charity for holding its premier annual Dancing for the Space Coast fundraiser last week, despite a state administrative order for the nonprofit to “cease and desist" soliciting donations.
News 6 partner Florida Today reports the investigation follows the charity's failure to renew its registration with the state — not an uncommon oversight in small nonprofits — and months of reminders and warnings before the state demanded it stop all fundraising activities until it fixed the problem. The charity had not done so before Saturday's fundraiser, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
"Our Mediation & Enforcement Bureau is currently investigating the situation," Department of Agriculture spokesman Max Flugrath said, "and will determine how the fundraiser should be handled, in conjunction with their failure to provide payment for the final order ahead of the fundraiser."
The lapse and apparent failure to follow through create a potentially embarrassing situation for Sheriff Wayne Ivey, the public face of the charity, the host of the annual Dancing for the Space Coast event and the county's top law enforcement official.
"There are two ways to look at it," said Aubrey Jewett, associate professor of political science at the University of Central Florida. "One is that this is a really nice event to raise money for a good cause, and that, basically, small paperwork kind of issues, you wouldn't want that to interfere with raising money for a good cause.
"But there's another way to look at it: You're the sheriff, and you should be the role model of following the law, not breaking it. Yes, maybe it's a minor paperwork issue on one level, but still, you're expected to follow the rules, and if you don't, as a sheriff, you open yourself to political attack."
Ivey denied the organization was out of compliance and said, "I'm not embarrassed by it at all."
"This is an administrative issue and it has been taken care of by general counsel," he said. "It has all been addressed and had been addressed prior to the event."
Charles Nash, the lawyer for the sheriff's office charity, said it did miss a filing deadline because the nonprofit had undergone a change in executive directors in December 2018.
"Upon becoming aware of the filing requirement, our new executive director worked diligently with our charity’s legal and accounting team to pull together the information needed to complete the application," Nash said via email.
Nash said while the application was being finalized, he received an administrative order from the Florida Department of Agriculture, "whereupon I expedited the filing of the application and applicable filing fees."
Nash called the situation "a relatively minor administrative snafu," and "a clerical oversight that has been subsequently corrected." Focus should be on "the many hundreds of thousands of dollars that our charity has raised to benefit the residents of Brevard County, including the more than $300,000 recently raised at the very successful Dancing for the Space Coast fundraiser," he added.
The Brevard County Sheriff's Office Charity, Inc., was created in 2016 after the sheriff consolidated three existing sheriff's nonprofits — the BCSO Pet Posse, the Police Athletic League and the Brevard County Public Safety Charity — into a single organization with the aim of helping law enforcement officers, firefighters and paramedics, as well as kids and pets in need.
The sheriff's office took control of the Dancing with the Space Coast fundraiser in 2015 and has turned it into one of the biggest charity events of the year in Brevard County. Held at Florida Institute of Technology's Clemente Center, competitors in the event take dance lessons and raise money for various charities.
Three charities are chosen to share 90% of money raised. According to the event's website, this year, that money goes to Genesis House, Candlelighters of Brevard, and ArtWorks of Eau Gallie. The remaining 10% goes to the sheriff’s charity. The winning charities were unaware of Brevard County Sheriff's Office Charity, Inc.'s situation.
Sponsors included the Sheriff’s Office, Florida Institute of Technology, Harris Corp., and Space Coast Daily.
The problem started on Feb. 19, 2019, when the charity missed its deadline to file its annual registration paperwork. It's unlawful in Florida to solicit donations without registering with Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services — the organizational equivalent of driving without a license.
Not registering on time is commonplace among smaller charities, FDACS spokesman Flugrath said, pointing out it often happens when treasurers change and new people are not aware of the renewal process.
State officials say the lapse prompted the Department of Agriculture to send a reminder letter to the charity on March 5.
The letter went unanswered, they said, triggering an administrative complaint, dated April 12, sent to the nonprofit's lawyer, Nash, warning the charity was out of compliance with state law and faced a $500 fine. The organization was given 21 days to fix the problem or request a hearing to explain.
"Initially, an Administrative Complaint was filed against them and in that process they did not respond and did not request a hearing challenging the facts," said Flugrath.
On May 23, a Final Order was sent to Nash, imposing the fine and demanding the sheriff's nonprofit stop acting as a charity. Around the same time, the Brevard County Sheriff's Charity, Inc. stopped appearing on FDACS’ Check-A-Charity website.
Flugrath said when charities are not listed it's usually because they are expired, suspended or in "poor standing."
Dancing for the Space Coast is a fixture on Brevard social calendar for the first weekend in June. But, according to Flugrath, the FDACS only received the registration renewal application and a late fee from the charity on May 31, the day before the event. It did not include payment of the $500 fine, the state agency said.
Flugrath added that as of Tuesday, the Brevard County Sheriff's Office Charity, Inc. has not filed a notice of appeal to challenge the final order.
“Because they did not provide payment for the $500 fine with the final order, they are still not in compliance and cannot be until they resolve that outstanding amount,” Flugrath said.
Ivey said that information is incorrect.
It is unclear if the money raised during Saturday’s event could be affected.
Copyright 2019 Florida Today